Thursday, January 15, 2009

Playing with Languages

I just sent the following info to my players in my hacked Moldvay/Cook/Labyrinth Lord game.

The primary language spoken throughout the world is Common, a trader language based heavily on he languages of the Lizardfolk empires. This was started by merchants, but has acquired the aggressive support of the gods who hope to use it as a way to forge closer ties between all the peoples and nations of the world. All PCs start off speaking Common.

Human characters probably also speak their native tongue. There are dozens of human languages scattered across globe. Finding someone else who speaks the same language, however, is pretty rare once you travel beyond a few hundred miles from your home town.

Common Fey, or just Fey, is spoken by all the races of Fairy. These include elves, gnomes, pixies, nixies, centaurs, satyrs, dryads and the like, plus trolls. If your character is an elf or gnome, they also speak this language. Many human magic-users learn Fey, since a lot of work was done on the arcane sciences during the age of the Empire of the Elves.

High Fey was the courtly tongue of the Empire of the Elves. It is an extremely complex and nuanced language. It was primarily used for legislative communications and decrees. However, it also is useful to magic-users wishing to learn more of the secret magics of the elven emperors.

The lizardfolk have their own language, unified at the time of their first great empire. There are many dialects and local slang, but generally, if you speak Lizardfolk, you can talk to anyone else who speaks it. This is the second most popular language, after Common.

Nagpa is a dead language, mostly because all the Nagpa are supposed to be dead. These vulture-headed humanoids were spawned by Tiamat to organize her children before the Third War of the Monsters. The Nagpa were obsessed with magic and plundered all the peoples of the world for their magical secrets. It's thus a very popular language among magic-users, especially those who live on the shores of the Turquoise Sea.

Beyond her experiment with the Nagpa, however, Tiamat was never really big on unity or organization. So her other children almost all speak their own languages. The most common of these are Orc (spoken by orcs and ogres and most giants), Goblin (spoken by kobolds, goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears), Gnoll (spoken by gnolls, ghouls, and ghasts), and Dragon (spoken by dragons, wyverns, and the more intelligent hydras). Most of the rest of the monsters who can speak have their own language. On the island of Dreng Bdan, goblins and orcs are the most common creatures seen. Tribes of gnolls are known to live on the mainland of Idumma.

Addendum: Two things I forgot to mention. First, High Fey is spoken only in royal courts or other rarefied social strata. No character gets High Fey for free.

Second, yes, there is a Dwarven tongue and script. While the dwarves do use a more archaic form of their language for formal occasions, it's not so different from their vernacular as to comprise its own language.

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